The 3.5% Threshold

March 6, 2020


How to overthrow an evil dictatorial regime? Well, the best answer is through the active civil resistance of at least 3.5% of the population of a country. Comparative studies indicate that nonviolent resistance is twice likely to succeed than violent revolutions.

Case Study: EDSA People Power Revolution

If the 1986 People Power Revolution would be taken as a case study, it took about two million people protesting in the streets or about 3.5% of the total population of the Philippines in 1986.

The events that led to the historical peaceful overthrow of the Marcos regime are many and complicated, involving the heroism, suffering, and selfless sacrifices of thousands of Filipinos. 

Ninoy’s death in 1983 marked a turning point, which galvanized the local opposition movement and intensified the international political pressures. The mounting civil unrest and global condemnation forced Marcos to conduct a presidential snap election in 1986.

However, it was the blatant election fraud perpetrated by the Marcos camp that sparked the powder keg of revolution. Although it initially started as a failed military coup, it was quickly transformed into unarmed civil resistance demanding the resignation of Marcos.

EDSA became the epicenter of a popular national revolt participated by more than two million civilians blocking tanks and battalions of soldiers.

Chenoweth-Stephan Findings

The 3.5% threshold is not unique in the 1986 People Power Revolution in EDSA. According to comparative studies done by political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, this threshold is one of the hallmarks of all successful nonviolent resistance in the historical cases they studied.

Chenoweth, Stephan and their team compiled historical case studies of 200 violent revolutions and 100 nonviolent campaigns. Along with statistical data analysis, they made the following findings:

• Only 26% of the violent revolutions were successful
• About 53% of the nonviolent campaigns triumphed
• The violent revolutions led to tyranny or civil war
• The nonviolent campaigns ushered stronger democracy
• Wider support and international sanctions played important roles

The findings were expounded in a book titled: Why Civil Resistance Works (The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict). The authors presented detailed case studies of different revolutions and nonviolent resistance in various countries, expanding a time period of more than a century from 1900 to 2006. Among the notable case studies were Iran, Burma, East Timor, and the Philippines.

Why Nonviolent Campaigns Succeed?

High moral ground.

Nonviolent campaigns like Gandhi’s India Independence Movement (1915-1947) and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. in the 1960s, involved appeal to high moral ground.

This ideal appeals to wider portion of the population. On the other hand, violent campaigns like terrorist attacks may have some fundamental ideals but the tactics used are morally repugnant to many people.
De-escalation of violence

Using violence as a form of resistance against an evil regime further escalates the violence and repression. For example, the urban assassination hit squad of the New People’s Army, the Alex Boncayao Brigade in the 1980s provoked the military to be more violent not only against the insurgents but also against civilian sympathizers.

Torture under military custody became a standard instrument of terror and means of extracting information. Retaliatory campaigns of the military also victimized innocent civilians who were accused of being communist supporters.

In contrast, the use of nonviolent means of resistance can help de-escalate the retaliatory violence such as in the case of EDSA revolution. The peaceful and unarmed protesters won the hearts and minds of the soldiers who were ordered by Marcos to attack Camp Aguinaldo. The soldiers even received orders from Marcos to open fire at the crowd but they refused to follow the orders. Even the pilots of helicopter gunships defected.

Fewer obstacles for participation

Unlike violent resistance, a wider portion of the population can participate in peaceful resistance like civil disobedience, protest rallies (including prayer rallies), sit-ins, boycotts, and work stoppage. The risks involved in terms of physical harm is obviously far lesser when participating in rallies than in engaging the military in armed skirmishes.

Various sectors can participate in civil disobedience. For instance, all big businesses may unite and opt not to pay taxes, thereby cutting a very significant portion of government revenue. This would incapacitate the government to some great extent.

Greater international sympathy

Nonviolent resistance can attract global sympathy. Such is the case in Senator Delima’s unjust incarceration. Peaceful protests and international condemnations led to diplomatic pressures against her oppressors. The Magnitzky laws in various democratic countries, for instance, penalize those who violate human rights. Many of government officials in the Duterte administration are likely to be penalized by Magnitzky legislations and policies such as revocation of visas and freezing of assets.

The nonviolent resistance against the Duterte regime is currently gaining momentum. Among its more recent incarnations are the online trending of the #OustDuterte hashtag on Twitter and the “Duterte Resign” campaigns like the February 22 protest rally of BUNYOG.

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